I am going to diverge from the usual format of my articles, as this one will be part editorial, part personal observations and experiences and part fact. Being a four-time visitor to Brasil in the company of my Brasilian-born companion has given me unique opportunities to not only see Brasil from a tourist standpoint, but to also hear first-hand information and interact with his family and friends. And FYI old habits die hard, so I will be using the portuguese spelling of “Brazil” which is actually “Brasil.”
Obama will be paying his first visit to Brasil later this week since Dilma Rousseff became the first female president of Brasil on January 1 of this year, she was preceded by 2-term president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Brasileiros typically refer to their presidents by first name only, thus in newspapers, magazines and in family and friend discussions one won’t hear “President da Silva” or “President Rousseff” but just “Lula” or now “Dilma.”
First a little background on “Dilma.” Half Bulgarian and half brasileira, Dilma is I guess one could say Brasil’s version of Patty Hearst, but by choice. Dilma grew up in Belo Horizonte, hometown of my brasilerio and was a revolutionist guerrilla during the military regime in the 1960’s. An avowed Marxist, Dilma could wield a weapon, rob a bank and set off some little bombs with the best of them. Dilma spent 2 years in prison, and was reportedly tortured there but later renounced that assertion in court.
Much later on she ended up as Lula’s Minister of Energy and resigned that post in March of 2010 to run for president. Brasil is an extremely liberal and progressive country so it’s no wonder that they are in love with Obama. During the 2008 presidential campaign here, the boyfriend’s family would constantly call and email asking me to send them Obama t-shirts and memorabilia. I refused.
That “love affair” continues to this day and after reading several articles from Brasilian newspapers his visit is extremely well anticipated and exciting. After spending a day in the capital of Brasilia, Obama will then journey to Rio and give a public speech at one of the major theaters there.
So what can be expected from Obama’s visit? He will have energy chief Steven Chu with him, as well as Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
Brasil has become a financial powerhouse and because of the half state-owned and half public-owned oil giant Petrobras Brasil has now become oil independent. Petrobras recently discovered two major oil fields off the coast of Rio which will eventually lead to even more ability to export oil and they are also into bio-fuels, mostly ethanol but only around 1%. One Brasilian paper I checked mentioned Obama will be discussing nuclear safety after the crises which have arisen in Japan, but I believe this is a “lost in translation” aspect and he will be really “contemplating” however one never knows.
With Tim Geithner, Bloomberg is reporting via Reuters Dilma may be reconsidering Boeing’s bid to provide new F-18s for the Brasilian air force. Also in contention are Dassault Aviation SA and SAAB.
Commerce Secretary Locke may be able to forge new trade agreements with Brasil. According to White House spokesman Jay Carney
“Latin America has had a tremendous economic progress over the last decade (…) and is playing an increasingly important role. Economic growth is a priority for Obama. The trip will focus on trade and economic opportunities,” said the spokesman White House, Jay Carney, noting that the region grew at a rate of about 6%.”
Other Brasilian papers are reporting that Dilma is also coveting a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and that with Obama’s support that could become a reality ousting other candidates India, Japan and Germany.
A country with virtually only two classes, rich or poor, Dilma’s reported goal is to ascend a middle class to this still third-world country. In this writer’s eyes, an impossibility since I have personally seen the estimated 2 million people who live in favelas in cardboard boxes on hillsides in Rio which wash out during a heavy rain. Because of the impoverishment many turn to drugs which result in major shoot-outs between police and the drug lords (yes, the family sends reports). Being a Catholic country Brasil does not have the death penalty and prisons are hugely overcrowded resulting in prison riots which have resulted in many deaths on both sides.
What will this visit accomplish and entail? I checked the White House blog and there is no mention of it there so only time will tell during and after the fact.
I will leave you all with this little ad I noticed on one Brasilian newspaper:
Crossposted at Conservative Outlooks